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Paramount’s Longest Employee, A.C. Lyles, Dies at 95

A.C. Lyles, whose long association with Paramount began when he was 10 years old, died Friday in Los Angeles. He was 95.

Lyles started out at Paramount working for Adolph Zukor more than 80 years ago, worked as a studio publicist for many years and even served as a producer on HBO’s “Deadwood.”

Lyles was one of the last of a breed who made the transition from the old classic studio system to the new Hollywood. Eminently likable and adaptable, Lyles worked his way up from the mailroom and labored for many years in publicity and advertising, giving him an understanding of every facet of the making and selling of motion pictures. Lyles went on to produce low-budget Westerns, and later, television movies and series.

Except for a brief period on his own, he hung his hat at Paramount throughout his exceptionally long career. Such an expert was he on the company’s history that he often lectured on the subject and was the studio’s unofficial ambassador of good will.

RELATED: Paramount’s Longest Employee A.C. Lyles Celebrates 95th Birthday With Mickey Rooney, Buzz Aldrin

Andrew Craddock Lyles was born in Jacksonville, Fla. He actually started working for the studio via its then-owned Florida Theater, where Lyles worked as a page boy and then usher for almost a decade. He had met the studio’s head, Adolph Zukor, during his usher days and corresponded with him until he had saved enough money to migrate west in 1938, he told the Los Angeles Times.

AC Lyles Paramount

Once in Hollywood, he went straight to Par and managed to snare a meeting with Zukor, who placed him in the mailroom, where Lyles made the princely sum of $15 a week. He also ran errands for the studio boss and escorted visitors around the lot. By 1940 he had been promoted to the studio’s publicity department; later he supervised advertising as well. After serving in various production capacities on several films including 1956’s “The Mountain,” starring Spencer Tracy, he got his producing stripes in 1957 with James Cagney’s only directorial effort, “Short Cut to Hell,” a low-budget gangster film. Thereafter he remained at Paramount as a producer of mostly low-budget Westerns; he provided the financing, and the studio provided the facilities and distribution.

In 1959 he was associate producer on several episodes of the TV Western “Rawhide,” starring Clint Eastwood.

During the 1960s Lyles’ credits included “Raymie,” “The Young and the Brave,” “Law of the Lawless,” “Black Spurs,” “Young Fury,” “Town Tamer,” “Johnny Reno,” “Waco,” “Red Tomahawk,” “Fort Utah” and “Buckskin.” Most of them were strict programmers (and in color) during a period when the Western had virtually been co-opted by television. They starred veteran Hollywood stars like Rory Calhoun, Dana Andrews and Dale Robertson.

After leaving Par for a short spell (he produced the famously risible horror film “Night of the Lepus,” about killer rabbits), he returned and joined the studio’s television division, where he was noted for his ABC Afterschool Specials as well as work for the CBS Festival of Lively Arts for Young People and NBC Special Treat programs. His 1979 special “A Christmas for Boomer” was aimed at young people and was followed by the limited series “Here’s Boomer.” Lyles also served in a producing capacity on “Dear Mr. President.”

Under the NBC World Premiere movies umbrella, Lyles handled such films as “Flight to Holocaust” and “The Last Day” in the 1970s.

Much more recently, he was crediting as consulting producer on David Milch’s HBO Western series “Deadwood” in 2005-06.

In 1990, he made a rare appearance in front of the camera in a small role in Paramount’s “The Hunt for Red October.”

He was also featured in numerous documentaries about old Hollywood, including 1998’s “Hollywoodism: Jews, Movies and the American Dream,” “Marlene Dietrich: Her Own Song” (2001), “The Definitive Elvis” (2002), “Cecil B. DeMille: American Epic” (2004), “Why Be Good? Sexuality & Censorship in Early Cinema” (2007), “The Dawn of Sound: How Movies Learned to Talk” (2007), “Hollywood Singing and Dancing” (2008), “Audrey Hepburn: The Paramount Years” (2008) and, most recently, “1939: Hollywood’s Greatest Year” (2009), “Pure in Heart: The Life and Legacy of Lon Chaney Jr.” (2010) and “Hollywood Renegade” (2011).

In 1990 Lyles was honored by the Boy Scouts of America with its Jimmy Stewart Good Turn Award, and he was also enshrined on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 1992 he was honored by the Publicists Guild of America, of which he was a founding member.

He is survived by his wife, Martha. Donations may be made to the Motion Picture Fund.

(Richard Natale contributed to this report.)

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